Just before 7:00 a.m., we arrived back at McKenzie Pass, where the trail continued north from the highway. With heavy hearts, we said our good-byes; I shouldered my heavy pack and Camelbak water reservoir and started out on the trail leading across the black lava. Periodically, I would turn around and wave at my wife and daughter who watched me as long as they could before I disappeared into the valleys of lava, now part of the Mount Washington Wilderness.
Part of the lava I was walking across came from the Yapoah Crater located on the south side of McKenzie Pass and part of it came from the Belknap Crater located on the north side of the pass. The trail passed between Belknap Crater and its littler brother, Little Belknap, then pushed on to the west flank of Mount Washington, a basalt plug. Mount Washington can be climbed, but it would require a full set of technical rock-climbing equipment.
Even though I have had two full days of rest, I was still moving slow along the trail, so slow in fact that I pulled off the trail into a grove of trees that was totally surrounded by lava fields and rested for an hour. I’ve discovered that part of my tiredness might be attributed to a lack of minerals in my diet. To help combat the extreme fatigue I sometimes feel, I consume electrolytes in the form of salt tablets. I have a sufficient supply of these tablets that I try to take five to six a day. I’ve also found that drinking a packet of Carnation Breakfast drink at least once and sometimes twice a day, with its multiple vitamins and minerals, helps to fight off fatigue.
Back on the trail, I was passed by Elizabeth and her father who was section hiking with her. I hadn’t seen Elizabeth since Crabtree Meadows, just prior to ascending Forester Pass in the Sierras.
Every week since I started the trail, I had been participating in a weekly radio program on KSL Outdoors in Salt Lake City. One of the hosts of the show – Russ Smith of Skycall Communications, offered to lend me a satellite phone for personal use if I would consent to calling in once a week for an interview and update about my experiences on the PCT.
The interview usually took place on Wednesday evening around seven, and was then presented on air every Saturday morning.
Russ and his fellow KSL radio host, Tim Hughes, are motorcycle enthusiasts. They told me they wanted to do a road trip into Oregon and thought it would be great to connect with me while I was on the trail and record a live interview. Coordinating my hiking schedule with their biking schedule made a rendezvous at Big Lake Youth Camp the most logical place to meet. We set the meeting time for today, Monday, August 19, 2013, at 2:00 p.m. Even with taking an hour-long break on the trail, I still arrived at the youth camp prior to the appointed time.
I set my pack down on a picnic table in front of the Administrative Building, and went around to the side to where the stairs lead to the basement and the stored hiker packages. Mine was still where I left it two days ago.
Twenty minutes after two, from somewhere back in the trees, I heard the deep-throated rumble of motorcycles, and moments later, two burly men dressed in black leather with helmets and dark visors covering their heads and faces, emerged from the forest and pulled their massive machines to a stop in front of the split-rail fence that separated the parking lot from the grounds of the youth camp. It was Russ and Tim.
We chatted for an hour, during which time Tim set up his video camera and recorder and taped a live interview with me. When I say video camera and recorder, I should say he set up his Smartphone to tape the interview. It never ceases to amaze me how high tech and miniaturized electronics have become, and yet, twenty years from now, I’m sure I’ll look back and think how antiquated the recording devices in the Smartphone were.
By 4:00 p.m. I was back on the trail – sort of. Rather than backtrack to the spur trail that I followed coming into the youth camp, I tried to follow the dirt roads that would lead me back to Highway 20, from which I knew I could find the PCT. Somehow I missed an important trail junction and ended up on the Old Santiam Wagon Road that was taking me into parts unknown. After a mile of not recognizing the surrounding terrain, I turned around and backtracked back to the youth camp, thinking that once I was there, I would be able to get my bearings and set out again. I hate it when I get lost, as it wastes so much time.
On my way back to the youth camp, I passed a well-defined trail that had a bulletin board set in the dirt next to the trail. I took time to read the messages on the bulletin board, and discovered that I was standing in the middle of the PCT. Had I been paying attention as I walked along the dirt road, I would have noticed a plethora of footprints in the dust, as they crossed the road and continued on into the woods. I made the correction in my trail navigation and crossed the dirt road, following the footprints into the trees. Within a half hour, I found Swiss Army sitting beside the trail studying his maps and eating a snack.
Wanting to walk with me, he packed up his gear and fell in behind me as we continued up the trail to the road crossing at Highway 20 or Santiam Pass. Within a short distance after crossing the highway, I found the Forest Service bulletin board to which Swiss Army had attached my package containing the new backpack cover. It was still there; no one had disturbed it. I removed it from the bulletin board and stuffed it in my backpack.
We walked until dark, all the while trying to find a place to camp. However, we were walking in a burn area with heavy undergrowth that has sprung up following the fire, thus making a campsite hard to come by. In desperation, we left the trail and walked to an area that had the appearance of being flat and each of us carved out our own space from the ground foliage. After we were settled in, and as dusk turned to night, I could see the faint glow of Swiss Army’s cell phone as he checked it for messages.